QALACHWALAN, Asharq Al-Awsat- Iraqi Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi appeared confident of winning in his confrontation with Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. He rejected the charges made against him, which he has described repeatedly as “fabricated” to undermine his national reputation and tarnish him politically so that the arena would be vacated for Al-Maliki, whom he described as not being a man of national accord or reconciliation and a man who does not believe in democracy.
In an interview with Asharq Al-Awsat, Al-Hashimi did not rule out the possibility of there being a clear Iranian-Syrian role to displace him and ruin his reputation.
The text of the interview follows:
[Asharq Al-Awsat] This crisis started with the withdrawal of American troops. Al-Maliki says he has documents against you which he had kept for three years. Why this timing, in your opinion?
[Al-Hashimi] The fact is that everybody was taken by surprise by this crisis, especially at this particular time. If the case is a criminal case, it could have taken its course through the judiciary, away from the media. All this fuss led to the creation of a real national crisis in these difficult conditions. The Government was supposed to have devoted all its efforts and energies to make the Iraqi people rejoice over the departure of the Americans, regaining sovereignty, bolstering the political process, and ensuring national accord. This was especially required to put Iraq at the threshold of a new phase of national accord and opportunities for advancement and prosperity, as well as creating a better life for Iraq’s citizens. Most unfortunately, all this was aborted because of what Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki did. If there was a criminal case in fact, it was supposed to have been referred to justice, especially since I was present in Baghdad. As for the timing, it seems to me that the man was too hasty in his program and approach to destroy his political adversaries. He started with Tariq al-Hashimi and the series will continue, as he has announced at a press conference. My house has in fact been under siege for two months during my presence in Baghdad. Perhaps because of his rush, the reports that reached him which were in fact fabricated urged him to move quickly and deliver a pre-emptive strike. It was as if he wanted “to have the others for lunch before they have him for dinner”. This is my explanation in general for the crisis. It appears to me from this that Al-Maliki will not accept the existence of opposition of any kind after the withdrawal of the Americans and that will seek to consecrate the running of the State by one man and a single party. This approach by Al-Maliki is no longer a secret for any Iraqi. The man started with me and it is very likely that he will move against the others in the future, even the Kurdish Alliance also. The man was able to dominate the National Alliance. Today no voice rises higher than the voice of Al-Maliki in that alliance. All these indications suggest in fact that this issue is politicized primarily. His objective is to bring down all the politicians opposed to Al-Maliki’s policy. Perhaps the man is under the pressure of false reports that gave him the impression that the adversaries are preparing for a military coup or for an action against him. These allegations are false and without a basis of truth. We tried to explain this to Al-Maliki and the advisers around him. We told them “Brothers, these reports are without credibility and we have no intentions to do this. We are now in prominent positions in the State, so against whom would a military coup be staged and why?”
[Asharq Al-Awsat] What about the dossiers Al-Maliki said were the basis of the accusations against you and which he said he had submitted to the Presidency of the Republic?
[Al-Hashimi] Al-Maliki was perhaps truthful only in this particular part. Yes, he submitted this dossier three years ago. But the President formed a committee from his legal advisers to study and analyse this dossier. They subsequently gave him an evaluation of the allegations and information contained in the dossier. The conclusion was that the contents of the dossier do not amount to any physical evidence against Vice President Tariq al-Hashimi and are merely accounts, tales, and claims that have been settled and decided by the judiciary. This conclusion was presented by Mam Jalal to Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki. He told him and I quote “Abu-Isra, you are not a law man but I am. This dossier contains accounts and tales but no criminal issues that can lead to a court suit against Tariq al-Hashimi”. The Prime Minister asked him: “Are you certain about what you say?” Mam Jalal replied: “Yes, I am certain, and I shall bear the responsibility.” Al-Maliki said: “Then I shall shelve this dossier.” This is what happened three years ago. When the President informed me of this I objected to the step he took by returning the dossier to the Prime Minister. I told him, and I swear to Allah this is what I said and you can ask the President about it: “I am not going to accept this measure. I ask you please to issue an administrative order to stop me from working and to form a judicial committee inside the presidency to investigate all these claims that were made and allow me to give my testimony on them. After this, if the investigating committee reaches nothing and says that this was a malicious claim of no importance, I as Vice President would initiate a court suit against the Prime Minister for moral and material damages because the name of Tariq al-Hashimi was mentioned in these dossiers. This means I shall file a court suit against the Prime Minister because he claimed that the Vice President engages in all these terrorist acts. All Iraqis have learned about this dossier and consequently the moral damage has been inflicted. At that time Mam Jalal told me: “Mr Tariq, please consider this issue as closed.” I acquiesced to the desire of the President and did not file suit against the Prime Minister at the time. This is one thing. The other thing is that if we suppose that what the dossier contained was true, why did Al-Maliki wait three years to present this dossier again to the judiciary? Do you remember the question addressed to Al-Maliki on why he kept the dossier for such a long time and that he answered by saying “I waited until those people stop killing but they did not stop. It appears that they have gone beyond the accepted limit for killing. This is why I have presented this dossier to justice now”. What kind of logic is this? Who would believe these lies? How can the Prime Minister accept seeing the blood of the Iraqis spilled while he looks on without taking any measure to stop all this blood spilling? Then after three years his conscience suddenly awakens and he presents the dossier to the judiciary. What kind of a farce is this? Who is the Prime Minister fooling? Is he trying to fool the awareness of the Iraqi people that they have put to sleep? The Iraqis are intelligent. The man failed dismally in raising doubts about my integrity, honesty, and peaceful behaviour in this domain. The people were really amazed that the Prime Minister would talk like this about a dossier that was dealt with at the time by the President of the Republic.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You stated that Al-Maliki started with Tariq al-Hashimi, who is an important political figure. Does this not mean that these attempts of his will torpedo the political accords, especially since you said that it will be the turn of the others later? Does this mean that Iraq is moving toward a new phase?
[Al-Hashimi] In truth, Iraq has become in an extremely difficult position. I was optimistic some months ago, but today I say that the future of my country has become at the mercy of the winds because this man has detonated a heavy calibre national crisis that will not be easy to redress through some meetings, beard kissing, or attempts to forget injuries. This man has detonated a crisis with clear political and sectarian dimensions. This man destroyed everything that we pledged to build over the past eight years. It has now become clear to all observers that the man is not a man of political accords. He does not believe in the independence or integrity of the judiciary. He does not want to accept any dissident voice. This is a very major problem. He has placed himself in a critical corner. But this discourse involves clear threats and extortion of the leaders in the Iraqi List. If Al-Maliki completes destroying the leaders of the “Iraqi”, he will focus on the Kurdistan Province and precipitate a real confrontation in the future.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Concerning the Iraqiya List, are you satisfied about their performance and their stance on the crisis?
[Al-Hashimi] Definitely there is solidarity on this issue. I am aware of the pressures and extortion they face. The statements by the Prime Minister at the press conference were clear. We are in full agreement. The “Iraqiya” is not abandoning Tariq al-Hashimi in the crisis and not compromising on the defense of the independence of the judiciary. There is insistence on their part on the necessity of correcting the political process, building the State of establishments and preventing monopoly by one individual or party that would revive the same dictatorial system that prevailed before 2003. These tenets are firm with the “Iraqiya” and everybody is still true to them. Consequently, I am happy about the unity of the position of the “Iraqiya” and their stand in solidarity with the crisis of Tariq al-Hashimi and the unjust claims and defamation he faced in the media and elsewhere.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] But do you not think that this major crisis required the presence of the head of the List, Iyad Allawi, in Baghdad?
[Al-Hashimi] Dr Iyad Allawi has international commitments. I believe he will explain what happened in Iraq to the international community. This is very important. Thus his absence today has its justifications. We really want the Arab world in particular to be informed about what is happening in Iraq because eventually what is happening in Iraq will move to the neighboring countries, just as Iraq is influenced by what happens in the neighboring countries. This is why I believe that it is necessary for the leaders of the Arab countries to be aware of the truth of the crisis and its causes, reflections, and ramifications on the future. The best voice that can convey this to the Arab and Islamic world is the voice of Dr Iyad Allawi.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have called for Al-Maliki to step down. Do you believe the problem is with Al-Maliki or with the National Alliance?
[Al-Hashimi] The problem is actually with the National Alliance. It nominated Nuri al-Maliki as Prime Minister and supported him and we agreed to this in 2006. Even his nomination lately came from the National Alliance. Thus the ball is now in the court of the National Alliance. The problem is that Iraq will not be right except under the umbrella of a national consensus, under a personality that believes in building a State of institutions and law. From our experience with Mr Al-Maliki and the crisis he detonated, I no longer believe that the man is a man of national consensus or national reconciliation who believes in democracy, hearing different opinions, transparency, or the independence of the judiciary. If these are the man’s characteristics, is it rational to move from this crisis to another crisis that might be bigger in the future, or rather to put an end to this regrettable collapse in Iraq’s political situation? This is not in the interest of Iraq or of the National Alliance. Thus it is in Iraq’s interest and it is the responsibility of the National Alliance to look for alternative replacements for the prime ministry.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have accused Iran of being behind this crisis?
[Al-Hashimi] I do not exclude foreign intervention in what happened. I am not alone in saying this. Iran itself says they have become the sole principal player on the Iraqi arena after the departure of the Americans. Today Syria also has a great influence on decision-making in Iraq. The reason is clear and known to all. Part of it is related to the change in the Government’s position on the Syrian regime. These two States really play a role in decision-making in Iraq. Consequently I do not think that it is unlikely that they pushed matters to embarrass al-Hashimi and tarnish his reputation in these difficult circumstances.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] So what’s the point in calling for Al-Maliki to step down when in the end it will be within Iran’s power to nominate a replacement?
[Al-Hashimi] This is one of the major challenges. I am very saddened when I see that my country has regained full sovereignty after the withdrawal of the American forces. But the Americans are leaving behind a heavy challenge that is beyond Iraq’s capabilities, specifically concerning the Iranian challenge. For this we reproach the United States and the Arab countries, especially the Gulf countries that have left Iraq like this without doing anything. We reproach the neighboring countries that have turned a blind eye to the continuing Iranian interferences since 2003 and the expansion of Iran’s activities and influence in various domains. Consequently Iraq has fallen today captive in the hands of neighboring Iran. Today we and the nationalist Iraqi leaders pay a dear price, and Iraq is also paying this price.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] You have called for not arming Iraq with American weapons for fear of their being used by Al-Maliki to bolster his power and serve his interests?
[Al-Hashimi] Let me clarify to you the statements I made in my interview with The New York Times. I did not call for not arming Iraq. The correspondent was worried and asked me if Iraq’s conditions were unstable because of the national crisis it faces at present, noting in this connection that the United States has decided to supply Iraq with a large quantity of technologically advanced weapons. I told him there was no objection to this on condition that you guarantee that the Iraqi Army and the armed forces and the security bodies are nationalist and professional bodies, not sectarian bodies. This is a very important point, for otherwise these weapons will turn into a disaster for the Iraqis and for the neighboring countries. This is what I said. The correspondent asked me whether this meant that the United States should not supply the weapons. I said no, let the supplies and training continue but on condition that they serve their objectives. In order for the armaments and supplies to serve their objectives and for Iraq to have a strong army, we must prepare for it a nationalist and professional base, meaning reform of the configuration of the armed forces under the Defense and Interior [Ministries] before equipping the Iraqi Army. For instance, there are today senior officers who did not graduate from the military or police academies. Consequently, such persons are not qualified to deal with high-tech weapons. This is the money of the Iraqi people. We have commanders who are not qualified even for less than this, so how can we buy F-16s and heavy artillery when we do not have a modern army today. This is not to mention this behavior today that we consider as explicit sectarian behavior. Consequently, we need a national army that respects all the constituents of the Iraqi people and that does not constitute a burden on any constituent or ethnic group in the future. This is a very important matter, not only for the Kurdistan Province, which I know has reservations about this matter, but also for all the constituents of the Iraqi people who should feel worried about the boosting of military power without preparing for this by building a national army for all the Iraqis, so that it does not become a disaster for the Iraqi people themselves. This is what happened during the time of Saddam Hussein. We must not repeat this experience.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] How do you explain the suit filed against you by Iraqi politician Mathal al-Alusi at the same time this crisis blew up?
[Al-Hashimi] Let the man put forward whatever evidence he has. At every occasion, this man tries to ride the wave and defame me unjustly. I have nothing to do with this matter. He considers that the man accused in the murder of his two sons is a relative of mine or my nephew. But the fact is that there is a mix-up because of similar family names and nothing more. The minister he believes I allowed to escape is no relative of mine. Let him come forward with the evidence and the witnesses and I shall accept any suit on this matter. Like he lost his sons, I have also lost my brothers. The ones who killed his sons are the same ones who killed my brothers. Consequently we are victims of the same tragedy. So how can I sympathize with the killers of his sons when I know the extent of the suffering and the crisis the man is going through? I regret that today, over and above the plight of Tariq al-Hashimi, this man comes to cause another plight even though only a few days ago he criticized Al-Maliki’s Government, sectarianism, mismanagement, bribery and corruption. He should have stood on my side today because he knows I am facing injustice. He said on many occasions that the judiciary is politicized. In any event, I leave this matter to the judiciary. God willing, it will find all cooperation from me on this matter.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Within the same framework, Al-Maliki has warned the provincial leadership that the problems of Baghdad and Irbil will worsen if Al-Hashimi is not turned over?
[Al-Hashimi] I ask a question: What does the man have to do with these matters? He says that this is a criminal and judicial issue. Thus the Judicial Council is the body that must deal with this dossier. But this is a signal to Iraqi public opinion that this case has become a personal case for Nuri al-Maliki. He detonated the problem and he is the one who is following up this dossier judicially. He is the one who says that we accept or do not accept transferring the case to Kurdistan. He is the one who says that Kurdistan should turn or not turn me over. Do all these acts not show explicitly that there is a violation by Al-Maliki of the independence of the judiciary? This is a question addressed to public opinion. Why does he not take himself out of the case and leave the issue between me and the Judicial Council?
[Asharq Al-Awsat] Do you still insist on your position of contesting the integrity of the Iraqi judiciary and insisting on shifting the case to Kurdistan?
[Al-Hashimi] Article 55 of the Penal Code entitles any Iraqi citizen to ask for transferring his case from one province to another. This is nothing new. Perhaps the objective is to ensure better justice or to ensure safety. I do not feel safe today in Baghdad. There are members in my personal protection–who are innocent people–who have been subjected to extortion, pressure, and perhaps torture to wrest all these false and fabricated confessions from them. Consequently, justice will not be ensured in Baghdad. If the people are really concerned about finding out what really happened and to examine these confessions, then let us move to a neutral territory. That neutral territory is now the Kurdistan territory. This is because firstly it is not part of the Arab Sunni regions that constitute an extension of Tariq al-Hashimi and because they are also not an extension of Al-Maliki’s supporters. Kurdistan is neutral between Tariq al-Hashimi–if his differences are of a political nature–and Nuri al-Maliki. At the same time Kurdistan has a respected judiciary and respected judges. The witnesses will take the oath, and I shall come forward without any delay or hesitation. Let all those who have confessed come so that investigations would be undertaken transparently and smoothly. It would be alright even to have a representative from the UN Office in Baghdad present, or a representative from the Arab League in Baghdad and also a representative from the Organization of the Islamic Conference to investigate the truth. Certainly we are in need today of restoring the prestige and reputation of the Iraqi judiciary which was considerably hurt by this crisis. As for my request to transfer the trial to Kurdistan, there are many cases that have been shifted between provinces. These include the case of the minister Abdul-Fallah al-Sudani which was moved from Al-Simawa Province to Baghdad; the case of Hussein al-Sharistani when he changed from a defendant to a witness and the judges went to his office, and the case of Hakim al-Zamli which was transferred from the Iraqi Criminal Court to Al-Rassafa Court. All this is on record and it is a routine matter. The problem is whether the parties which stand behind these accusations and fabrications really want to find out the facts or want only to further tarnish the reputation of the Iraqi judiciary by politicizing it, pressuring the witnesses and the judges, and exerting pressure on Al-Hashimi in the future to bring him down politically, which is the purpose behind all this? So Al-Maliki should accept the demand and not object to it because this is not in his jurisdiction.
[Asharq Al-Awsat] If the crisis drags on and remains in limbo, you are the Vice President and your headquarters should be in Baghdad yet you are in Kurdistan. How do you expect matters to proceed?
[Al-Hashimi] As I said before, I am here in Kurdistan at the instructions of the President of the Republic after he was informed that my conditions in Baghdad and at my office and house were no longer suitable for carrying out my duties. This is why he asked me to come to Al-Sulaymaniyah. As you know, I came with my colleague, brother Dr Khudayr al-Khuzai. We came on an official mission. I mentioned this to the President and he said “stay with me in Al-Sulaymaniyah, and you have tasks to undertake in the presidency”. It is on this basis that I carry out my functions as an employee in the Iraqi State. The Constitution and the laws do not forbid an employee from carrying out his duties in this or that area. It saddens me that my office and house have been destroyed and that the officers assigned to protect me are now being hounded. There are employees in my office who are currently in prison. The case is no longer about Tariq al-Hashimi but is directed against his public [followers]. There have been arrests of my supporters in Al-Zubayr, Al-Amriyyah, Al-Ghazaliyyah, North Baghdad, and Al-Yarmuk. This man has gone beyond what is rational in his acts. This is why the issue is clearly not just a court suit against me. Through your newspaper, Asharq Al-Awsat, I call on Al-Maliki to return to the logic of rationality and not push matters toward the unknown because this is not in his interest or the interest of Iraq. He has to control the tempo of his security bodies and the Armed Forces and stop this unprecedented targeting of innocent people.